Over the next year, millions of dollars are expected to enter Alaska in the form of campaign spending. The Alaska Senate race could end up being one of the more expensive races in the country, because Republicans need to unseat Democrat Mark Begich if they want to take control of Congress. Since much of the money is going to be spent on political ads, some state legislators would like to see stronger federal disclosure laws, so voters know who’s paying for the airtime. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
If you spend any time watching local television, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this during a commercial break:
ACTRESS: For too many of us, costs are going way up. Sen. Begich didn’t listen. How can I ever trust him again? It just isn’t fair. Alaska deserves better.
NARRATOR: Call Sen. Begich. Tell him no more broken promises. Stop Obamacare.
The ad was put together by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, and it’s been criticized for being filmed in a Lower-48 kitchen and for featuring a Maryland actress.
But Democratic state legislators Hollis French and Les Gara have a bigger problem with the ad than the shooting location. They think it should name the organization who paid for it, and who their top donors are. Alaska law already requires that of campaign ads in state elections, but no such rule exists at the federal level.
“When you peel back the layers, you realize it’s just a couple of super wealthy individuals that are funding these,” says French, who is also a candidate for lieutenant governor. “I think it makes a difference if their names have to be read as the person funding the advertisement.”
In the case of Americans for Prosperity, that would be Texas billionaires David and Charles Koch, who operate a multinational conglomerate with interests in Alaska.
“It’d be, you know, the first Koch brother, the second Koch brother, and then they’d probably run out of donors unless they’ve got some third person to throw in some money,” jokes French.
French and Gara held a small rally to draw attention to the issue in Anchorage on Tuesday, and they plan to introduce a resolution this upcoming legislative session that would ask Congress to pass stronger disclosure laws.
They want to see something like the so-called DISCLOSE Act, which was introduced after the Supreme Court decided corporations had the right to make campaign expenditures. That bill would have put a number of limits on corporations, and one of the measures in it would have made interest groups list their donors at the end of attack ads.
The bill lost momentum in Congress after being filibustered in the Senate. But French wants Congress to revisit the law, so campaign ads in federal races are treated the same as ads in state races.
“Come on, Congress,” says French. “If we could do it, you can do it.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation is largely on board. Sen. Mark Begich originally supported the DISCLOSE Act, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced separate legislation that would tighten rules for political action committees. Rep. Don Young voted against the DISCLOSE Act, and still opposes the legislation.
For its part, Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity doesn’t like the DISCLOSE Act. They think their donors could be harassed or face other negative consequences for supporting their organization.
Michael Macleod-Ball with the American Civil Liberties Union says that whether or not you like a group’s message, that’s a legitimate concern for free speech advocates. He cites an effort by opponents of the civil rights movement to make the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reveal their membership list.
“People were in fear of their lives for being disclosed as members of the NAACP,” says Macleod-Ball. “Times are different now, but there are always organizations where membership in that organization presents a particular threat.”
Americans for Prosperity also holds that Gara and French are raising the issue as a way of deflecting negative attention from a fellow Democrat.
“They bring it up just as we start holding the Senator accountable for his Obamacare vote,” says AFP President Tim Phillips.
And as far as that ad with the Maryland actress? Phillips is standing by it. He says it’s the message that matters, and that Alaskans should expect see more spots like it on television going into campaign season.
“I think you’re going to see additional ads coming from us,” says Phillips.
No word on shooting location yet. Phillips says decisions involving set and casting have yet to be decided.
Groups in Alaska working to sign people up for health insurance on the federal marketplace say the website is working much better. The Obama Administration re-launched an improved healthcare.gov marketplace yesterday. Now insurance agents and navigators have three weeks to help Alaskans enroll in insurance plans that start offering coverage January 1st.
Tyann Boling probably knows HealthCare.gov better than any other Alaskan. And the COO of Enroll Alaska is not shy about grading the web site. In October, on a scale of 1 to 10, she gave it just a one. In November, a four. And now?
“I’m very pleased to announce that I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 it’s operating at about a seven. I would say our enrollment numbers are coming up dramatically.”
Boling says yesterday her insurance agents enrolled 14 people in the marketplace, a tally that was unimaginable a few weeks ago. She says the process usually takes around 45 minutes. But the web site needs work. Boling says her agents still encounter technical issues, especially with more complicated cases:
“You know I can’t pinpoint one situation that is the main problem, its just the complexity of people’s lives that can make it more challenging to get people enrolled.”
When problems do pop up, Boling says her agents are usually able to work through them instead of sending clients home, another big difference from the old website. Susan Johnson is the regional director of the federal Health and Human Services Department. She says she’s aware the site still needs attention:
“We’re working everyday with teams 24/7 to get to a 10.”
Johnson wants people who gave up on the site in the early months to give it a try again.
“It’s continuous progress. We didn’t get to December 1st and say, ‘we’re done.’ We’re going to get to December 23rd and continue to work through improving the site, all the way until March and beyond.”
December 23rd is the date people need to be enrolled to have coverage by January 1st. The open enrollment period extends through March 31st.
The Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center has three people working to sign up Alaskans for insurance. But the clinic says about 1/3 of the people they help earn too little to qualify for subsidies to help them buy insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, they should be eligible for Medicaid, but Governor Sean Parnell declined to expand the program. Development Director Jon Zasada says that puts the center in a tough spot:
“The work that we do in providing primary care does not equal having access to quality insurance. For us and for, we think, other community health centers around the state, this does amount to an unfunded mandate.”
Alaskans who would have qualified for Medicaid under the expansion can apply for a hardship exemption, so they don’t have to pay a penalty for being uninsured. Overall, the main groups assisting Alaskans with healthcare.gov have enrolled 96 people since October 1st. They hope that number will increase substantially in the next few weeks.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, Kaiser Health News and NPR.
Hundreds of dead birds washed up on the shores of St. Lawrence Island towards the end of November. And though the cause of the die off isn’t yet known, the quick response demonstrates a mounting capacity for dealing with unexpected environmental events in the region.
Increasing reports of deformed frogs and toads in the mid 90s, prompted Congress to mandate studies to look into the problem.
Amphibians are sort of the canary in the coal mine for gauging the environmental health of land and surface water. The study was released in November, and looks at amphibian abnormalities on 152 wildlife refuges across the country, including five in Alaska.
The decade long study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service examined more than 68,000 frogs and toads. Generally, only about 2 percent of the amphibians were found to have abnormal limbs. But there were a few areas, called ‘hot spots’ where the rates were much higher.
Two of those areas were in Southcentral and Eastern Alaska. Mari Reeves is an ecologist with the fish and wildlife service. She says they wanted to see if the hot spots had something to do with people.
“And we found a strong and significant association between abnormalities and road proximity, so if you lived closer to a road you were more likely to be abnormal,” Reeves said. ”And it was a probabilistic thing, meaning that if you lived next to a road you were not always abnormal, like we definitely had collection events right next to roads that we didn’t find any abnormal frogs but what we found is that the average frequency went up.”
The abnormal frogs were found in greatest numbers in the Kenai and Tetlan refuge areas.
ANWR, Innoko,Yukon Delta, and the other refuges that were sampled had much lower rates.
Reeves says the connection to abnormal frogs and toads could in part, be linked to copper in brake linings. When you hit the brakes, a bit of the copper grinds off the brake lining and settles on a roadway. Reeves say incredibly low amounts of copper can impact a tadpole’s ability to avoid predators and dragonfly larvae like to eat tadpole limbs.
If they bite them off during the tadpole’s early growth, they can grow back, but they might not look the same.
“And depending on the complexity of how that wound happens, you can get some really interesting malformations like split limbs or limbs that, they’re called bony triangles, in the limb and if it’s just a clean break, you might just get one limb that looks like a normal limb except that it’s smaller than the other ones,” Reeves said. ”Those are the really common abnormality types.”
Reeves says another fairly common abnormality specific to Alaska frogs is one called “Black eye” or “Hollow eye,” where the normal gold color around the iris is gone. Researchers don’t know if the frogs can still see through that eye. Reeves says ‘legacy toxins’ were another problem for frogs. Pesticides such as Lyndane, used to kill spruce bark beetles or contaminants that drift to northern climates from other places and drop in snowfall cause toxin accumulation through global distillation. Reeves says multiple stressors likely caused the hot spots for abnormalities.
“We think that we understand at least a bit of how that mechanism works, is that very low levels of contaminants can make the tadpoles sick, can make the tadpoles not as well able to get away from their predator, who bites the legs off and so you get these limb abnormalities,” Reeves said.
She says the study is the largest data set in the world on this amphibian issue, although the testing was only conducted on wildlife refuges.
- Trends in Amphibian Occupancy in the United States (PDF)
A Delta Junction-area farmer is rebuilding a barn fire that killed 500 chickens and other livestock last spring. Despite that and other adversity, Brandy McLain is determined to restore her poultry operation.
2013 has not been a good year for Brandy McLean. In April, she lost her barn – and the chickens, turkeys and ducks that were trapped inside. She’s stayed in business since then by growing crops and raising hogs, and had begun rebuilding the barn, with the help of her father and friends.
Then, in September, her father died.
“It’s been a rough year – one heck of a year, y’know,” McLean said. “It’s been about the worst year of my life. But I’m not going to give up.”
That pretty much sums up McLean’s attitude.
“Mom and Dad didn’t raise me to sit around crying,” she said. “You get out and do it.”
The 38-year-old single mom with two boys has been doing just that over the past several weeks, plugging away in a kind of slow-motion barn-raising. Friends helped her frame up the 16-by-20-foot structure a couple of weeks ago
“I mean, you can actually see it now,” she said. “It’s looking great!”
McLean had hoped to have the barn done by now, but says it’s tough to get volunteer help to show up due to storms and cold snaps over the past few weeks. She’s got a few dozen chickens free-roaming, and some that she’s farmed-out to others. But she’s resigned to waiting until spring to really get back into the poultry business.
“I’ve got stock running around, living with the hogs,” she said. “I was hoping by now to be laying eggs. That’s part of my business. So it’s kind of slowed things down some.”
McLean is mostly getting by right now by selling hogs, and produce. She attended a Farmers Market in Tok over the weekend, a chance to make a little cash, and remind everyone that Triple McLean Farms is still up and running.
“We grew a lot this year, as far as cool crops and root crops and things like that. And I was able to sell a lot of that. Supplement with baked goods. I’m doing that. And I’m going down to the Tok Bazaar on Saturday, sell potatoes and some baked goods and things,” McLean said.
She said that not only earns income, “It lets people know that, hey, we had a fire, but we’re still in business.”
McLean says she and some volunteers will get back to work on the barn after Thanksgiving. She’s planning to give thanks to everyone who’s helped out on the project by throwing a big barbecue next summer. She says fried chicken will definitelybe on the menu.
Fairbanks emergency responders rescued a woman from a window of a downtown Fairbanks high rise yesterday.
Fairbanks Police lieutenant Matt Soden says police got a call about the woman in an open window on the 8th floor of the Northward apartment building Monday morning.
“We responded over there, made contact from the doorway with the female who was having some mental health issues. She was very scared; thought that people were after her, and she was climbing out the window to make an escape,” Soden said. ”We began talking with her, trying to convince her to come back in while at the same time the fire department responded and set up their ladder truck with a large bucket underneath her and as she either slipped or started to fall, they were able to get a hold of her and get her into the bucket.”
Lieutenant Soden says the woman only fell about a foot and was not injured, but was transported to the hospital. He says family members also responded.
The Lower 48 has been on the offensive against the flu virus for weeks. But in Unalaska, most people didn’t have access to vaccines until late November.
An attempt to tailor flu prevention around Unalaska’s unique population didn’t go over well with locals.
Kathy Whitman has lived in Unalaska for years, and in that time, she’s learned not to take chances with her health.
“Out here it’s really kind of a concern because if you get sick, you’re pretty much looking at a trip off the island. You know, you’re having to go to Anchorage to get fixed,” Whitman said.
That’s why Whitman tries to get a flu shot as early as she can every year — typically in October. But when she called the Iliuliuk Family & Health Services clinic asking about her vaccine this year, Whitman was told she’d have to wait — all the way through November.
“I don’t think that this was a wise choice to be made,” Whitman said. ”You know, they’re taking a chance with our health, and if it was just my health — but it’s the whole community, you know? Once one person gets it, it kind of goes like wildfire, generally.”
While there is a risk in skipping a vaccine or waiting too long to get it, clinic director Eileen Conlon Scott says the flu shot can wear off.
“Every year we end up with a lot of people getting the flu at the end of the season because they get inoculated too early,” Scott said.
And clinical director Ramona Thompson says Unalaskans could wait until Christmas and still be protected.
“Honestly, it wouldn’t even bother me if it didn’t come until then,” Thompson said. ”I mean, it would probably bother the community, but I don’t feel like it’s a concern until the processing plants start ramping up.”
Thompson says Unalaska’s flu season happens later than in the Lower 48 — usually, from January through April. That lines up with the processing A season, when lots of workers come to town from out of state and possibly bring illnesses with them.
Even though clinic staff had a reason for giving out vaccines later this year, they didn’t notify patients that they were changing the schedule.
Scott says she got at least ten calls in October from locals like Kathy Whitman who wanted to know when they’d be able to get their shots.
And not everyone could wait. Some of the school’s highest-risk employees were inoculated by a visiting nurse in early November. And some kids under 18 who were also at risk, got their vaccines on time from a stockpile at the clinic.
One other high risk group is the seafood processors — the people who clinic staff say might be a driving force behind Unalaska’s flu season.
UniSea is the biggest processing plant in Unalaska. To cut down on sickness, they’re running a mini flu clinic out of their office here, and at company headquarters in Washington State.
But not everyone participates. And UniSea’s human resources director, Michelle Cochran, says they don’t require employees to get vaccinated before they start work. So it’s pretty much a given that some people are going to get sick.
“Every year, you know, there’s some sort of illness that goes on, and I think a big part of that is just people entering a new environment — you know, who knows what they’re bringing with them?” Cochran said.
Cochran’s also on the board of directors for the Iliuliuk clinic. While the board didn’t have a part in the decision to offer flu shots a little later this year, Cochran says she thought it made sense.
And the clinic’s not giving up on the idea that a later vaccine could be better. But next year, they’re going to give patients an option.
The clinic will be prepared to give flu shots starting in October. But they’ll be recommending people wait until November, so they’ll be protected from getting sick when it really counts.
Speaking an endangered language at home is the essence of language revitalization, according to author Leanne Hinton. She’s written the book Bringing Our Languages Home and was recently in Juneau for the Tlingit Tribes and Clans Conference.
Mischa Jackson and her husband are speaking Tlingit to their 10-month old baby Michaelyn.
“We do little words and phrases and commands at home and try to expose her as much as we can to elders that speak conversationally, so she can just hear it. And she loves to hear it. It gets her attention better than English does,” Jackson says laughing.
Jackson herself doesn’t speak the language well. Her family has roots in Klukwan, but Jackson grew up in Anchorage, then lived in southern California. Her mother taught her Tlingit songs, and that’s about it.
By speaking Tlingit at home, Jackson wants to give her daughter something she didn’t have. Jackson’s husband, on the other hand, was exposed to the language growing up in Kake. “Her dad got to listen to his grandparents and he’s a much better speaker because of it, whereas for me, I can’t make the same sounds as easily as he can, so I know it makes a huge difference,” says Jackson.
Jackson is doing exactly what Leanne Hinton recommends for parents who may not speak a language but want to make it a part of their home.
“All it really takes is dedication to the language. It doesn’t even take fluency because you can be learning with your children,” Hinton explains. “Like many of the families I know started from scratch when their children were already born and as they learned, they were bringing it home bit by bit and making it more and more the language of their home.”
Hinton is professor emeritus of language at the University of California Berkeley. She specialized in American Indian languages, sociolinguistics, and language loss and revival. She’s written a number of books on keeping endangered languages alive and says speaking the native language at home is the key.
Home, she says, is the last place where it disappeared.
“To get it back into the home again is the one time that the language is actually going to become naturally acquired again by children so that actual native speakers are occurring. Once people are learning it at home and using it, then you feel like you’re beginning to be out of danger for the language,” Hinton says.
Hinton says ideally parents would only speak the endangered language at home, but that’s usually not the case. “Most of the people that I’ve interviewed are lucky if they use it 50 percent of the time, and 50 percent of the time is actually a fairly good ratio,” she says, “but you want more for an endangered language if possible.”
Parents, like Jackson, who speak their Native language at home will likely face some challenges when their children go to school and their peers and teachers are speaking English. Hinton says children may then refuse to speak the Native language at home, but there are ways to tackle this problem.
“One way is to start trying to talk about how important it is to use the language but that may not go over with a 5-year-old,” says Hinton. “Some parents just simply won’t respond to their kids if their kids talk to them in English. They’ll talk to the kids in their endangered language and if the kids talk back in English, they just say, ‘I don’t understand.’ Sometimes that works quite well.”
Another option is making language a game. Imagine jars with pennies inside. Every family member gets one. If a person catches another saying something in English that could be said in their indigenous language, that person gets to take a penny out of the other’s jar and put it into their own jar.
At this point, Jackson doesn’t have to worry about those challenges yet. She says her daughter Michaelyn isn’t saying much, in English or in Tlingit, “Every once in a while we laugh because it sounds like she’s says, ‘dlaa,’ like she’s saying, ‘haa dlaa,’ so we crack up whenever she does that.”
That’s Tlingit for, ‘Gee whiz.’
Clarification: KSKA would like to clarify a statement made in a story aired today (Tuesday, Dec. 3). The reporter failed to indicate that there was a door charge for a luncheon meeting of the Institute of Transportation Engineers set for noon at the Aviation Heritage Museum featuring speaker Steward Osgood of Dowl HKM .
A consultant says that the Bragaw Street extension into Anchorage’s UMed district could cost more than originally planned.
Community members from Alaska towns as large as Anchorage and as small as Allakaket are in Juneau for the second annual Prevention Summit sponsored by the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. The council is under the state Department of Public Safety.
The three-day summit at Centennial Hall brings together teams from 19 communities. Each team has at least three members.
“They’re victim service providers, first responders such as maybe law enforcement or healthcare providers, tribal representatives, as well as just people interested in preventing violence in their community,” says council executive director Lauree Morton.
Teams will be working on strengthening existing prevention strategies and developing new ones.
“It’s an opportunity for communities across the state to get together and talk to each other about what is working and what else they want to do to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault,” Morton explains.
The summit features presenters from around the state and outside the state, many who are experts in their field. One of the workshops will be with Green Dot, a national non-profit organization that is working with several communities in Alaska on an intervention program.
Morten says youth from Juneau and Sitka will also be highlighted at the summit, “young adults who are actually implementing strategies in their high schools on reducing violence.”
First Lady Sandy Parnell kicks off the second annual Prevention Summit Tuesday at 11 am. Opening remarks will also be made by Morton, Alaska Native Sisterhood grand president Freda Westman, and Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand President Bill Martin.
The state of Alaska is looking for partners to research a new source of natural gas called methane hydrates.
It could bring in new revenue for the state far down the road, but some environmentalists worry the risk of releasing that much methane is too great.
Methane hydrates are methane gas that’s trapped in ice crystals in the subsurface of the ocean floor and in the permafrost. Tests by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2012 in Alaska showed that the resource existed on the North Slope, but no one has commercially extracted methane hydrates anywhere in the world.
The state’s Director for the Division of Oil and Gas, Bill Barron, says the state and the federal Department of Energy are working together to research the potential in Alaska.
“But that’s why we’re doing these tests. This is very new technology. You can heat it and melt the water and that will liberate the methane,” Barron said. “There is a way to use carbon dioxide to exchange the carbon dioxide for the methane within the ice and liberate the methane and use it for CO2 sequestration.”
Barron says producers can use many of the same types of drills and well casings used in standard oil and gas drilling. But because methane hydrates are stored in the earth in a different way from typical natural gas, they need to research ways to release it safely and without melting the permafrost.
“You’re trying to strike that balance between how much recovery you get with what the impact is,” Barron said. “Right now we don’t think the impact will be at all substantial. We think that just a few degrees may be enough to liberate the methane.”
Meaning that the permafrost column will stay intact. Barron says this theory is based on research and on evidence from wells that have already struck and recovered some methane hydrates.
But Richard Charter says producing methane hydrates could be very risky. Charter is a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation and has been on the Department of Energy’s methane hydrate advisory committee for 10 years. He says the main risk is a giant blow out that could release significant amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
“Are we going to trigger a release that we can’t control of natural gas, particularly in the ocean, that we can’t shut off at a time when global warming is a problem and then further accelerate global warming?” Charter said.
Charter says drilling onshore is safer than offshore, where the risk is triggering a subsea landslide along with a release of methane. But either way, he says it’s different from conventional gas drilling because melting the hydrates leads to geological instability. He says the development of methane hydrates is at the point where researchers and industry players have to get it right.
“With hydrates we’re about where Thomas Edison was when he had his early light bulbs, some of his early light bulbs blew up,” Charter said. “So when you’re in the experimental phase of something with as large a scale of potential risk as hydrate exploitation certainly appears to have, you want to be extra careful because when you are learning is when you can have very large accidents.”
State and federal energy experts will be meeting with industry representatives in Denver on December 11 to see who wants to partner with the government to conduct the research and development work.
Charter says industry interest is based on methane’s potential for being the next big energy resource.
“If you could get a sufficient quantity of it to make it economically exportable, and by export I mean Asia as a market, then all of the sudden it’s a game changer for Alaska,” Charter said.
Methane extracted from hydrates can be transported along with natural gas from conventional sources either in a gas line or as LNG on a tanker.
Japan is the furthest along with methane hydrate research. The country drilled and extracted the resource from an offshore well in March.
A survey of oil company managers and executives has given Alaska poor marks for its business climate.
The annual report by the Fraser Institute, a conservative Canadian think tank, stacks Alaska up against other states and countries in an effort to develop a “policy perception index.” The respondents weren’t kind to the 49th state.
The survey asked about 16 factors, including taxation, environmental regulation, political stability and security.
Nearly 900 oil and gas industry professionals responded.
Alaska came in 79th place, right in the middle. You might see that as a glass-half-full result, but Pakistan wasn’t far behind and it put Alaska just below Tunisia, where a terror attack killed 40 foreign workers at a gas plant in January.
Larry Persily, federal coordinator of Alaska gas pipeline projects, notes the survey was conducted between February and May, so it’s impossible to say how many respondents were aware the Alaska Legislature rolled back taxes on the oil companies in April. Persily says the controversy itself plays a role.
“Oil and gas taxes is an emotional issue in Alaska. It’s in the news constantly. There’s referendums. There are political battles. The industry is aware of that and it certainly colors industry’s perception,” he said.
He also points out the report gauges perceptions, not actual conditions. Still, Persily says perceptions can sting.
“You don’t want that out there. It’s toxic but I think we also have to understand this is a self-reporting survey, it’s not a statistically accurate sample, so we should be concerned about it, but it shouldn’t ruin our day,” he said.
Bob Pawlauski, of the state Oil and Gas Division, says the Legislature made several changes this year that makes Alaska more friendly to industry. It provided flexibility to give companies more time to develop their leases, and it eased some of the permitting requirements. Not to mention the tax rollback. Former Anchorage Mayor Jack Roderick is working to get that repealed. He says the survey is an industry PR tool.
“Of course they’re speaking for their corporate interests,” Roderick said.
The industry named Oklahoma its favorite place this year. At the bottom of the pile is Venezuela.
You can read the survey here.
The chief of the agency’s Alaska office, Clint Johnson, said an investigator with the NTSB and another from the Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday
reached the site where a single-engine aircraft went down near the village of St. Marys.
He said investigators will be at the accident site for a day or two. They’ll collect evidence and interview witnesses.
Johnson says it’s too early to draw any conclusions about why the plane crashed. Another NTSB investigator in Anchorage also is hoping to interview survivors of the crash.
The Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 crashed at around 6:30 p.m. Friday. It left Bethel on a scheduled flight for Mountain Village and eventually Saint Marys but never reached Mountain Village.
Premera Alaska won’t increase premium rates for Alaskans who decide to extend their plans for another year.
The company previously had to cancel plans that didn’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act for 5,400 members in the state.
Last month, President Obama allowed insurance companies to continue offering those plans through 2014.
Premera Alaska spokesperson Eric Earling says the company decided to forego the normal rate increases, given the short timeline.
“Just made more sense to continue plans at their current rate so the only time if a members on an individual plan that’s being extended, that they would see their rate change is if they move into a new age band for the year,” Earling said. “Otherwise their rate would stay the same as long as they stay on it through 2014.”
Earling says members will automatically stay on their current plans, unless they call Premera to cancel. He says members can decide to buy an Affordable Care Act plan instead on the healthcare.gov marketplace anytime before March 31. That’s the only way to qualify for a subsidy to purchase insurance. Earling says there’s no way to predict how many people will go that route.
“The big question is, is someone eligible for a subsidy?” Earling said. “And if they’re eligible for a subsidy they may want to go to the exchange to buy one of the new plans to access that subsidy. But for those folks that aren’t eligible for a subsidy or very little subsidy, staying on their current plan might make the most financial sense.”
Moda Health is also planning to extend plans for customers who had their insurance canceled under the Affordable Care Act. The company says it doesn’t know yet if rates will increase.
December first was World AIDS Day. The annual observance started in 1988 to increase awareness and prevention of the disease.
The United Nations estimates that more than 35 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2012. About 70 percent were in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 4 percent in North America.
A misjudgement of just a few dozen yards in the placement of a small house on a remote part of Kodiak Island over 30 years ago will likely result in a family’s hopes, dreams and history literally going up in smoke. The family doesn’t live on their homestead on Dry Spruce Bay full time anymore, but they’re heartbroken at the prospect of losing it.
It’s expensive to travel in and out of Alaska. And for Puni Timu, that price tag has kept her from seeing her parents for more than a year and a half. Puni went to Kodiak High School where she was a star player on the girls’ basketball team. When she graduated, she signed with the University of Jamestown’s basketball team in North Dakota. It’s been a long time since Puni last saw her parents and her teammates recently decided to something extraordinary for her.
A plane crash near the remote western Alaska village of Saint Marys killed four of the 10 people aboard, including an infant boy, an Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman said Saturday.
The pilot and three passengers died in the Friday night crash, spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
Peters said she had no immediate word on the six survivors’ condition but an airline spokeswoman said she understood they were injured.
The single-engine, turboprop Cessna 208 was a Hageland Aviation flight from Bethel to Mountain Village and Saint Marys, said Kathy Roser, a spokeswoman for Era Alaska airline. Hageland is part of Era Alaska, Roser said.
Jim Hickerson, president of Hageland Aviation, also told the Anchorage Daily News the six survivors were injured.
The wreckage was found about 4 miles east of Saint Marys.
Troopers and an air ambulance service responded to the scene, Peters said.
The dead were identified as pilot Terry Hansen, Rose Polty and Richard Polty and the infant, Wyatt Coffee.
The survivors included Melanie Coffee, Pauline Johnson, Kylan Johnson, Tonya Lawrence, Garrett Moses and Shannon Lawrence.
No ages or hometowns were immediately available, Peters said.
An emergency locator beacon signal helped pinpoint the crash site, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson said.
There was no immediate word on what might have cause the crash. The NTSB planned to send two investigators to the scene Saturday. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting crash information.
The temperature in the area Friday night was about 18 degrees.
Saint Marys, with a population of about 500, is roughly 470 miles from Anchorage.
Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich of Alaska are co-sponsoring an amendment to move forward building four heavy icebreakers. The amendment is attached to the Defense Reauthorization Bill in the senate. It would allow the Navy to begin shopping contracts for bids on all the components necessary to build the costly boats.
Congress is so stuck in partisan mire it hardly passes any bills these days. So it would seem unlikely it could pass anything as controversial as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Still, two campaigns, Arctic Power and Alaska Wilderness League, remain on the job in Washington, D.C. One has been fighting for 20 years to allow oil development on the coastal plain of the refuge, the other working just as long to ensure that day never comes.
These days, Arctic Power operates out of a hotel-like building in the fashionable Penn Quarter area of Washington, known for its proximity to galleries and restaurants. It’s actually an apartment building. Campaign chief Adrian Herrera says Arctic Power recently emerged from warm shut-down status. For a few years, it had no real office.
“The last Alaska Legislature grant allowed us to lease this office and have a second employee, so we’ve have this operation for a year,” he says.
Herrera’s own apartment is in the same building, so his is a very short commute.
Arctic Power was founded in 1992, so long ago its torch has passed to a new generation. Adrian Herrera’s father is Roger Herrera, a former BP executive who ran the campaign for years. The second employee now working with Adrian is Michael Shively, who also has family roots in resource development advocacy. His uncle is John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Mine partnership.
Herrera says he understands Alaskans are frustrated Arctic Power’s work isn’t finished yet. When Congress created the Arctic Refuge in 1980, a section of the law, numbered 10-02, left the fate of its northern edge in limbo. Polls show Alaskans overwhelmingly favor oil drilling there, but that would take another act of Congress, and polls show most Americans hate the idea. So Arctic Power keeps trying, even now, with the Senate and the White House in the hands of committed opponents of ANWR development and the nation awash in oil from North Dakota and Texas.
Herrera says it’s the central conundrum of ANWR: Alaskans believe in responsible oil extraction while other Americans want this distant place locked up.
“It’s the difference between the people who live there and find their living off the land, who eat and work on the land every single day, and a state that gets nearly its entire income from that land use, versus people who’ve never been there,” he says.
But Herrera says circumstances can shift suddenly in Washington, and Arctic Power needs to be ready. When gasoline prices climb, for instance, lawmakers are more inclined to open ANWR.
“ So in this world of Capitol Hill and politics you never say never,” Herrera says. “Absolutely realistically speaking, would Harry Reid allow a bill on ANWR to reach the floor of the House? Very unlikely. Would the president threaten to veto it, absolutely, down to the last minute …. (But) you fight the fight until the very end. You don’t give up … . I mean, yes, realistically, if it came to the floor under current situations — Well, it probably wouldn’t even come to the floor, but is the debate still going on in hearings? Absolutely. Are the public still listening? Absolutely.”
Financially, Arctic Power has had fat years and lean years. Oil companies pulled out long ago, so the group’s primary funder has been the state of Alaska, which has contributed $12 million over the years – sometimes a million or two a year, sometimes a tenth of that. Still Herrera calls it a grassroots organization.
“Not all our funding does come from the state,” Herrera says. “We have a considerable amount of our funding that comes from private donations (reporter, off mic: Like what percentage?) … I’m not at liberty to say that.”
Public records on file with the IRS show other contributions are miniscule. The most recent, a lean year ending mid-2012, shows private donors gave Arctic Power $1,200. They were outspent 100-to-1 by the state. The group did better at bingo – receiving $20,000 in charitable gaming receipts from an Anchorage bingo parlor.
In Arctic Power’s war room – the living room of an open-plan two-bedroom suite – lists of bill numbers are tacked to the wall, favorable bills in black ink, bills they don’t like in red. Herrera says the group is no longer solely devoted to opening the coastal plain of ANWR. These days, they’re also working to encourage development to the west, in the National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska, and off-shore — all with the aim, he says, of filling the trans-Alaska Pipeline.
He says the work is largely research and outreach, and shepherding visitors around Capitol Hill to help make the case.
”Our goal is to really monitor the Hill and as much as possible convince the public, convince state legislatures around the nation, other coalition groups … to support the effort,” he says. “What’s good for Alaska is good for America. That’s been our message from the beginning and it will be until the job is done.”
About a mile away, just off the Capitol grounds, is the headquarters of Alaska Wilderness League, on the second floor of an unremarkable office block. Some 10 people work here, and 10 more in Alaska field offices. While Arctic Power’s budget recently doubled to $300,000, Alaska Wilderness League has an annual budget of more than $3 million. It initially focused only on the Arctic refuge but has since expanded into other Alaska issues, including logging. Despite its healthy budget, Arctic campaign director, Lydia Weiss, says they don’t lobby in fat-cat style.
“I don’t take members of Congress golfing. I don’t buy them steak dinners. We don’t have that sort of budget. That’s not how it works. I pick up the phone and I ask for time to meet with staff people and I sit down and do it the old fashioned way. And I tell them about this place and I tell them about the dynamics and I dispel myths and usually I win their support.”
Alaska Wilderness League chooses the more evocative route. They always call it the “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” and the “coastal plain,” never “ANWR” or “10-02 area.” They use beautiful photographs and deploy interns dressed in polar bear suits. Weiss makes no apologies for the bear costumes. At rallies and protests, everyone from tourists to members of Congress wants to pose for photos with the bear. Weiss says the fur suits work as intended by drawing attention and, she says, reminding people what’s at stake.
Weiss, originally from New York state, also freely admits one of the worst accusations flung at her side: She’s never been to this coastal plain she’s devoting her career to.
“As if having been there is a threshold that one has to pass to care about the place!” She says. “It costs thousands of dollars for somebody to get into the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If that’s a threshold for being able to care about this place, that’s a recipe for making sure that only the richest most elite people in American are allowed to weigh in on it. I’m not one of those people. I never had any expectations of going to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But one of the things that makes me proudest as an American is our wilderness ethic. And I, like most Americans that care about this place … like to know that America can do this right and we can protect our most special places. Not for us, and not for recreation but for future generations and for the wildlife that depends on it.”
A few years ago, when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, Alaska Wilderness League was playing defense. Now, Weiss says, is the time for her side to gain ground.
“When there’s an immediate threat to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we all, this entire community,… comes together to defend it, and we always win,” she says. “There is less attention on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when that immediate threat isn’t there, and Alaska Wilderness League was founded and exists today in part to make sure we’re taking advantage of opportunities for offensive gains when the threats aren’t as immediate.”
Senators who champion their effort, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Mark Kirk of Illinois, recently introduced a bill that would declare the coastal plain of ANWR a wilderness area, forever off-limits to oil development. It’s a recurring favorite for environmentalists but people on both sides of the issue say the same thing when asked about its chances of becoming law: It would be hard to get anything this controversial through Congress.